The Devil’s Mercedes: The Bizarre And Disturbing Adventures Of Hitler’s Limousine In America, by Robert Klara
This book manages to tell a compelling story about two cars and their contrasting fate in North America, and seeks to tell a larger tale about the unpleasant relationship between the United States (and Canada) and the issue of Hitler and his transportation. To be sure, this particular history is one that is likely to be of great interest to only a few people because it also has a lot to do about car culture and matters of politics, but although the author does not appear to know cars very well, he does manage to convincingly talk about the context in which these cars have been used to mobilize fundraising efforts or to try to raise cash for the car’s owners, and also the way in which the possession of the car has had some interesting consequences when it came to the melancholy reflections of Holocaust survivors or the desires on the part of neo-Nazis to view the cars as an aspect of the power and the glory of the Third Reich, and to even inspire death threats for the owners of the cars from those who think that harming the owners of Hitler’s car might somehow harm Hitler himself.
This book of about 250 pages is divided into fifteen chapters. The author begins by talking about a deal in Stockholm that led an American collector to receive what was supposedly Hitler’s car as collateral for a business deal (1) and the way that the ownership of the car led for the import-export trader to be thought of as a screwball (2), until he managed to unload the vehicle (3). After that the author talks about another Mercedes that was known as the Goring special (4), before talking about the Finnish provenance of the first one (5). There is a discussion of men with cars (6) as well as the way that the supposed Goring car was sent to Canada (7). There is a discussion of the way that the first Mercedes limo was used to promote a big tent (8), how there were suspicions of its value (9), and how it became part of a Dutch wonderland in Pennsylvania (10). The author then turns to the historical research of a Canadian historian (11), the demands the Mercedes places on its owners (12), more historical investigations (13), the cult of the Hitler cars (14), and finally a discussion of the first car’s new life in California (15), after which there is an epilogue, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.
In general, this book shows a somewhat unseemly side of the business of war reparations, the way that cars can gain great value from notoriety (even that they do not deserve), and that there is surprisingly little benefit for those who research looking for historical truth about such memorabilia. In general, this book is entertaining, but it is also somewhat cynical in the way that it points out the exploitation of Nazi iconography for fundraising efforts and personal profit, the way that items are resold and often gain in value on hype but are still not worth the while even when they make money, and the author even manages to insert himself as part of the story, showing the source of his own interest in the vehicles that he is writing about. This is by no means a bad book, but it is a book that does not always sit well in the way that it shows the hucksterish world of those who seek to profit off of history by telling yarns and stories that do not always bear a close resemblance to truth. Truth is, in a world like ours, a very elusive quality, and not always very satisfying to our interests when we find it.